The Dodgers loss in Game 4 is squarely on Dave Roberts’ shoulders

Getty Images

Let us stipulate at the outset that not every loss in a big game is the manager’s fault. Managers’ decisions are more highly scrutinized and second-guessed in October, but not every loss is a function of the levers they pull. Players need to execute and, often, they don’t. When they don’t, we should blame them, not the manager.

All of that being said, the Dodgers’ loss in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series should be laid squarely at the feet of manager Dave Roberts. The players he put in a position to secure the game failed to execute, yes, but they should not have been in that position in the first place.

Starter Rich Hill was cruising in this game. He had allowed only one hit and had pitched a shutout through six innings when he began the seventh. Yes, he allowed a leadoff walk to Xander Bogaerts, but he came back and struck out Eduardo Nunez and was at 91 pitches. Maybe that’s a lot of pitches these days, but there was no suggestion that Hill was gassed and, after an 18-inning marathon the night before, you’d hope that your 14-year veteran has at least a couple of more batters in him, especially given that the bottom of the order was up. Let Hill get through the seventh, put Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen in in the eighth and ninth and even up this series. That’s the smart play here, right?

But no, for whatever reason, Roberts pulled Hill and put in Scott Alexander, who promptly walked a batter to put two on. And then, even more inexplicably, Roberts called on Ryan Madson to get out of that jam. Which was objectively insane.

Madson blew up in the first two games of the World Series, allowing two inherited runs to score in Game 1 and three inherited runs to score in Game 2, costing the Dodgers each of those contests. In light of that it would not have been surprising if Madson had never been seen again. At the very least one would think that, if he was used again, it would be to start an inning when the Dodgers had a lead or in mop-up duty as a means of saving other pitchers’ arms or helping Madson gain his confidence back. When you screw up on the big stage, you have to work your way back. A veteran like Madson knows this and a good manager like Dave Roberts should know it to.

Yet Roberts put him in a tough jam for the third time in four games, and Madson crumbled for the third time in four games. The three-run homer he gave up to Mitch Moreland here represented the sixth and seventh inherited run he allowed to score out of his sixth and seventh runners he inherited in this series. That’s a simply remarkable accomplishment. And no, this is not an exercise in hindsight. I and every Dodgers fan I follow groaned when Hill was pulled and groaned even harder when Madson game into the game. When Madson made it 4-3 it was less a matter of shock than it was resignation.

The Mitch Moreland homer, obviously, did not end the game, but it all but eliminated any margin for error the Dodgers had. When Kenley Jansen gave up the game-tying homer to Steve Pearce the following inning it was one of those instances of a player not executing I talked about above. Jansen is a guy the Dodgers have to be able to rely on and, for the second straight night, he gave up a dinger when he really needed to not do that. Of course, because of Madson’s previous failure making things so tight, it was a game-changer.

It was the top of the ninth when the Red Sox broke things wide open, obviously. A lot of that had to do with the Red Sox simply remembering that they were the Red Sox. Their bats had gone cold for almost all of Game 3 and the first several innings of Game 4, but they were not going to be silent forever. That they put up a five-spot here was a combination of Dodgers pitchers simply not getting the job done and Red Sox hitters showing why Boston had the best offense in baseball all year long. But it was also something enabled by Dave Roberts going to his pen an inning too early, calling on the wrong guys at a critical time, blowing a nice lead and then having nowhere to go when things got tough in the ninth.

The better team won. The Boston Red Sox hitters, after a day and a half slump, showed just how dangerous they can be. But it’s not had to imagine things going very differently in this game had Rich Hill been given more rope in the seventh, Ryan Madson never seen the light of day and the rest of the Dodgers bullpen being required to close things out over two innings instead of parts of three.

And that, it would seem, is squarely on Dave Roberts.

UPDATE: In postgame interviews, Dave Roberts revealed two relevant facts. First: that heading into the seventh inning, Rich Hill had told Roberts to keep an eye on him in case he tires, and that Roberts had never heard that before. Second, Roberts revealed that Pedro Baez was not available tonight, for whatever reason.

Some might cite these facts to rebut my charges against Roberts above, but nah, I’m not buying it. For one thing, Hill merely telling Roberts to watch him because he might tire, does not in fact mean that Hill was tired when he was pulled. Indeed, Hill suggested himself after the game that he did not tell Roberts that he was tired at all. For another thing, not having Pedro Baez available, while notable, did not obligate Roberts to put Ryan Madson in a game with two runners on base after he had already cost the Dodgers two games in this World Series already due to failing in such situations.

So, no, I don’t think Roberts is off the hook here.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.